Sunday, May 31, 2009
The Lament of the Aspiring English Teacher: "Educators, Not Ministers." Welcome Medicine Hat Miller.
I look at their brightly polished faces,
Positioned in front of sad, hollow minds,
And it becomes difficult to suppress the anger in me.
To waste such young lives, such untapped potential,
Allowing their brains to languish in meaty prisons.
Dead in transition, blinding themselves to life and its stark realities.
These pretty, thoughtless people are content
To float among the bubbles in their lukewarm bathtub existence
(shower cap, soap, and carefully regulated temperature all included).
While so many are screaming from the sting of being's ice-cold shower.
A body with no mind will stumble out of its tub,
And array itself needlessly, allowing the radio to think for them,
While others shake cold and alert from their unholy baptism
And stagger out the gate -- drying their hair in the sun.
Oh Life, severe and intangible,
Bitch slap this goddamn generation.
Compel us towards comely modesty,
To respect the caliber of our humanity.
Permit to laugh at our failure.
A few days ago I stopped by the old high school to grab a sibling. Now, one of the things that makes my revisiting this place a bit difficult for me (aside from having left on a somewhat sour note) is the fact that as well as an educational institution it is also a very fundamental religious one, not in the sense of a Catholic school board (as by comparison they seem much more integrated) but in the sense of a school run, funded, and supplied by the church through tuition and charitable donations. As I waited for my sister to get out of the classroom I had an ominous, foreboding sensation as I waited in the hallway that almost made me quite ill. It wasn't the smell of teenage boys using their AXE, nor was it the rotting fruit that I was certain filled so many of the pale blue lockers, my reaction stemmed from the stern lecture coming out of the English classroom. Inside, a senior teacher (she had taught me when I was in Grade 9 and 10) going on about how Shakespeare was one of the most prolific writers of his time yet because of the content of his work (particularly The Taming of the Shrew and Antony and Cleopatra) extolled "dissident ideologies towards how a woman should allow the man to reign over her as it says in the Bible" and praised "erotic sensuality between men and women", the school would not allow those pieces of literature in the library as they were not befitting of it testimony.
What caught my ire was not only was this teacher (who I had clashed heads with before in my heyday) doing a disservice to any young minds that were interested in Shakespeare by limiting their potential knowledge of the subject but when I turned, expecting some sort of rebuttal to this lunacy, the only response I viewed was the bobble head agreement of 20 students with glazed over eyes. I thought to myself, "This isn't how one is supposed to instruct students". Teaching does not equate to a sermon where a pastor tells you what to do, teaching is a process whereby a professor is supposed to open young minds to possibilities they themselves had never thought of and cause them to think and question critically. I see these same type of students when I teach, trying to tell me that I'm discriminating against their religious beliefs when I give them a low grade. It's not that I'm discriminating against your religious freedoms here, it's just that when I ask for a seven page essay on the thematic importance of sentimentalism in Laurence Sterne's work I don't think giving me five pages comparing sentimentalism and Biblical tenants (with the resulting conclusion amounting to something along the lines of sentimentalism is ungodly, Sterne is a heretic, GOD ROOLZ) really meets the requirements of the assignment. What's really alarming is that every year I see a slow but steady increase in the number of these types of students and I know exactly where they're coming from because we have similar origins. As a teacher I do my best to turn them off such a troublesome throught process but I would love if this type of thing was nipped in the bud. If I wanted to see a room of brainwashed, narrow minded individuals I would drive down to the local Church of Scientology and get myself cleared of all the alien ghosts inhabiting my body (and money inhabiting my pockets) by squeezing two metal tubes and thinking happy thoughts.
It occurred to me that after leaving high school I was extremely fortunate to get my ass handed to me by my first university English professor, I have him to thank for making me actually think outside of what I knew in order to better myself (as well as pass his courses). I look back at so many of my fellow high school graduates and realize that the kind of teaching that school subjects its students to (though, to be fair, there are many good teachers in there that do quite the opposite though every year their number decreases) only serves to create ignorant persons who are given a very rude awakening when they go to post-secondary education and either forcibly adapt or crash and burn (of course the third option would be to go to Bob Jones University but I really don't see that as viable for too many students). There is a time and place for religious emphasis in the classroom (namely courses that center around them), I respect that, but to constantly try to tie everything into a single train of thought only means that one will only view the world through a single perspective and find it extremely difficult to sympathize with any others (and in life you need to have that kind of sympathy). Students don't need ministers, they need educators.
Saturday, May 30, 2009
Okay, proffies, you really don't get it. We don't want to be your friends -- we're not interested in "collaborating," and we KNOW we're not "real peers." We're kissing your ass because getting into med/law/business school requires a high GPA and if that means we have to look deeply in your eyes and feed your ego, so be it.
Some of us are insecure, still emotionally in high school, and want a surrogate mommy. Some of us just enjoy fucking with you. A few of us are actually nice, and we're genuinely this nice to everyone -- classmates, custodians, cafeteria ladies. Most of us are some combination of all of these.
In my freshman year, I had a proffie relationship much like the one you've been discussing on RYS. I was a stupid, insecure freshman who'd had a substandard high school education, and he saw a lump of coal he could make into a diamond. Long story short, I ended up hearing all about his abusive mother while he was drunk and he intimidated me into picking a major/department that was well outside my talents and interests. Eventually I grew a spine, changed majors/departments, and started avoiding him.
Now I'm in a major I love, and this semester my GPA was a 4.0, up from a low of 1.7 in the other major.
My point? I don't think students should be influenced in that way by an authority figure -- we need space to figure out what we want to do with our lives, and the fear of letting a professor/"friend" down can lead to delays in doing what we really want to do. Certain opportunities (such as double-majoring or even getting a minor) are closed to me because I spent so much time in the wrong major, taking classes that count only as electives in my current major.
Yeah, it's my fault and my responsibility, but I'm saying it so profs realize that their influence on students may not always be positive.
Friday, May 29, 2009
Earlier, I mentioned this semester's loud-mouthed "Male Student Egomaniac." A few days later, Bitchy Bear called into question my citing the examples (or should we call them legends?) of how Einstein and Edison were thrown out of school for asking their teachers too many questions they couldn't answer.
I must now concede that Bitchy Bear made some valid points. My budding young "genius" turned out to be ALL MOUTH: he was certainly no Einstein or Edison. Indeed, I could answer most of his questions, when he didn't interrupt me. It was easy, since they clearly showed that he never read the book.
He also apparently thought that doing homework was beneath him. This is deadly for mathematical physics: I like the subject precisely because it's just not possible to b.s. one's way through it. One either knows it or one doesn't, and the only way for humans to learn it is by doing the frickin' homework, honestly, and by oneself.
I'd chortle at how badly he did on the final exam, but for the sheer trauma for everyone at having him in the class.
- I don't know, Sherry, it just IS.
- Yeah, I saw "Glee." It was sweet. I'm a sucker for singing and dancing.
- I think the last time it happened I was drunk. But it can happen at other times, too.
- You know what, dude, if you don't like it here, you can get your animus down the street. Here's a farting gift for you.
- Yeah, I get reader's block sometime, too. It's like, are there more words on the NEXT page, too?
- So, am I getting this right? Your kid got out on Swine Flucation and you had to take him to all of your finals, and the proffies didn't like it? Dude, don't you have like a cousin or a neighbor or something?
- Ed, if my bro did something like that to me, poaching the only primo summer section, I'd sign up for a dudevorce right away, cut his sad weight loose.
- I think the biggest change you're going to notice next year on RYS is how we're going to transition to twitter...140 characters, man. If you can't get it said under 140, then like go tell it to the Chronicle forums.
- I don't know, do you think YOU'RE funny?
- If I had to pick, man, I'd skip "Angels and Demons" and go see "Trek" one more time.
- You can't say "hiatus" without making a little grin!
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Yo, I don't know what I'm doing, but I'm trying to add a search engine to the page so one can easily find those posts that give them such jollies. It may not work. It may completely freeze the site.
It might encourage my elders to release me from my torment.
This is a new one. I came to work this morning to find this e-mail in my inbox.
I’m am sending this message to explain what happened on a recent assignment given to my son. My son is not dishonest and plagiaristic; he is guilty of not providing his sources. Due to technical difficulties, I helped him with the assignment. When I looked at the assignment, I encouraged getting the best facts from a comprehensive web site. The one you found may be the same one but it wasn’t the only site consulted just the one that covered the material comprehensively. The website and use of it was not a secret, my son simply failed to turn in the “sources” part of the assignment. I’m not writing to appeal for a grade but simply to not have him appear dishonest when I was a part of it. The need for clarity in content seemed more valuable to me than rewording.
Unfortunately, I could not respond the way I wanted to respond. I wanted to say that this was not the first time I have had your son in a class of mine. I wanted to say that he has taken this same class twice before (unsuccessfully) with two other instructors. I wanted to say that I could probably guess how this whole thing went down. He had an assignment to do and instead of him doing it by himself (technical difficulties, WTF does that mean?) that you did it for him, probably like you did when he was in high school.
When he received a zero for the work (not done by him and really not even done by you) he probably came home raising hell that YOU landed him a big fat zero on the project. Oh, and by the way, rewording something (which you were too lazy to do) is also considered plagiarism, especially if you don't provide the source(s).
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
What the fuck is wrong with you people? Since late April you've been posting nearly nothing. Today all you have is some stupid video. How hard is it to post some reports from readers.
It's annoying to come here and find no new material.
Your only job is to keep the site up and running with reports and essays and I can't see how it's very hard.
I'd suggest you just go through any of the other academic blogs to see what issues are important to academics and do reports on them. 250-500 words on 2-3 of those a day and you'd have some content.
Without content a blog is a big waste of time, just a big jerk-off for yourself.
And really, you do have some funny lines sometimes so keep going with that. I always liked your Walter and Wayne characters. But seriously, I don't want to be a prick about it, but you should be posting a lot more reports than you do and if you don't then nobody is going to read this page anymore.
I really just mean it as constructive criticism.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
Ok, so my choice in the world of academia is that my students are my friends and or I'm a squalid just-for-the-bucks teacher. Way the show the world nuanced thinking, folks! It's either this weird extreme or this other weird extreme! Woo. I've learned from this discussion, haven't you all?
Taking the kiddies out for an ice cream does not a friendship make. Dinner either. My students can and do come to my place (there is a "dinner with the faculty" program at my uni, and in general it's less obnoxious than the "make them pancakes" idea, though both strike me as stupid.) But they are not my friends when they are there. They are my junior colleagues. Call me nuts, but friendship is a thing that you have with people who don't have to pay $10K to $45K in yearly tuition to talk with you. In general, my friends get to talk to me for free. Yah, sure, they had your class and you're now "friends for life." But they still had to pay to meet you. Forgetting that strikes me as a wee bit deluded, like actually believing the stuff you put in your autobiographical Wikipedia entry.
The problem is that I have dual and conflicting obligations towards my students and to my profession. My profession requires that I try to train students and vet them for both aptitude and discipline before entering the profession. I'm a teacher; I try to help students gain insight into their work. I also am a gatekeeper, whether the po-mo pedagogy people like it or no and whether I acknowledge it or choose to pretend that we're all just buddies learning from each other here. A word from me to my professional contacts can get you a job when you are done--or not. If I really care about a student--not just 'liking them, like a pal—I sometimes have to say things that hurt in the short term and help in the long term, and that's something that would be hard for me and the student if our idea of our relationship was that we "hang" like friends.
I care about them--the good students, the ones also care about the profession and devote themselves to it. They break my heart regularly. But that's different, way different, than either 'teaching' the way the uni seems to define it or friendship the way Katie describes it. So don't misunderstand me when I say I don't care about 'teaching.' I actually don't, but there is more to it than mere indifference. Dana notes that for adjuncts there is a critical nexus between teaching/ being employed/eating so that one may not adopt my 'who cares' attitude towards teaching. Dana's a bit too idealistic, I am sorry to say. The critical nexus is between eating and keeping your job, not eating and teaching. From my albeit limited experience, keeping your job in the contemporary university is in no way correlated with actual teaching, and if anything, real teaching may dampen your capacity to keep your job.
Oh sure, you have to show up and pretend you care about their self-esteem (retch, puke, vomit) and their tewwible tewwible problems that require infinite accommodation and flexibility and support while they themselves write dumbass essays on how homeless people need to get off the taxpayers' backs. But real teaching that disciplines their minds and conduct? Um, no. It's pretty clear to me that isn't what we're doing here. My teaching responsibilities in the classroom as defined by my uni, which only wants the checks to keep coming in, is to sell students sugar water in pretty bottles that reflect their own shimmery, shimmery light, resplendent with rainbows and cupcakes and little twirling sparkles. Maybe that's friendship, and maybe that's teaching. Maybe. But it doesn't seem like either one to me.
Friday, May 22, 2009
Understandably, it hurts to be branded a squalid teaching-just-to-earn-a-bucker by an absolute stranger on the internet. So let's plan a little social evening!
If I don't play favorites I'll need to host all 160 freshmen at my place simultaneously: let's say 40 in the living room, 40 in the bedroom, 40 in the kitchen, 20 in the bathroom and 20 milling around in the driveway trying not to bother the other tenants.
I live an hour away, so they'll need to carpool, or -- no, rent a couple of buses. This will be on one of the nights I don't teach at other schools an hour away in different directions. Maybe all of those people can come, too!
I'm thinking this will be potluck, if that works for everyone. No wine (that whole underage thing) but, inevitably, lots of hugging (that whole overcrowding thing). In fact, our social gathering will illustrate another good reason for thinking of the young 'uns as "snowflakes:" they' may be tiny and fragile as individuals, but get a whole bunch of them together under pressure and they become an irrestistible geological force, scouring and obliterating the Earth's surface!
Okay, let's not do this, actually.
Kate and Suzy, I like teaching, and because I don't have a Ph.D. I feel pretty lucky to be doing it. I tend to like my students, even the non-stellar. I worry that some of their laziness is passivity, that they're anxious to be fed the right answers partly out of reluctance to make mistakes. A lot depends on them growing some backbone. I let these people live their own lives BECAUSE I care.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
JESUS IS GOOD, BOYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!
My former classmat Kris Allen won American Idol out there in HollyWEIRD!
Look at him in this picture from our college's website. The article says he's a business major but he was in my History of Fine Arts class and he was like the nicest guy in the whole class the whole city!!
You should do yourself a favor and download some of his amaaaaaaaaaaazing songs on Itunes. Turn off your Lada GAGA and listen to some real music!!
JESUS IS GOOD, YAH, YOU HEARD ME!
I have found it, the origin of the full grown snowflake, and the sight is not pretty. I had long since wondered how the snowflakes got to be snowflakes really, but after popping out a kid (now 14 months old) I have been privy to how it all happens, and folks it starts very early.
Being finished with my semester and free for the summer I decided to take the wee one to the park this morning as it was a gorgeous day. I was happy sitting on a park bench enjoying the sunshine and no more grading for a few months and wee one was enjoying the sandbox and chasing bugs. Then it happened, my daughter picked up a long and very pointy stick. As these things are never a good thing in the hands of a small child I took it away from her. Then the tantrum started. She cried and pointed at the aforementioned stick. She stomped her feet and complained loudly. Being too young for reason or time outs I tried to distract her with the slide, the swing, her bucket and shovel in the sand. She was having none of it and the tantrum escalated. She threw herself on the ground kicking her legs and screaming at the top of her voice. I did the only thing I could do at that point utilizing the best piece of parenting advice my mother ever gave me, I walked away. The tantrum continued for about 20 seconds until, realizing she was not getting the stick and no one was there to witness the tantrum, the wee one went back to playing in the sand. The mother sitting at the next bench stared at me with open moth horror, like I smacked my daughter rather than walked two feet away from her.
“I don’t know how you can do that” she said with the air of mommy judgment some women are just born with. “I just cannot stand to hear my baby cry, I usually just let him have what he wants, or at least give him a cookie instead.”
And there you have it. Instead of teaching her small child boundaries the snowflake mommy just gives in. Now I am not naïve enough to believe that this one incident will teach my child anything (she’s a baby after all) but after replaying it approximately 1.2 million times during her life she will eventually get it. Which brings me to my point; I have begun to really see where the blame lies for a lot of the snowflake behavior, the snowflake parents. How can we expect students to act like adults when they have never ever been told no. Of course this is not the case for every kid, but when you do not learn anything about discipline or boundaries, how can we expect them to have those tools? I do not blame my daughter for her tantrum that is what kids do as they learn to negotiate the world with limited communication skills. But I would blame myself if I never addressed the situation, never taught her how to walk in the world. I am not by any stretch of the imagination giving the snowflakes a free pass, but I wonder if many of them ever had a chance to be anything other than a snowflake.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
A Love Letter to us Squalid-Teaching-Just-To-Earn-a-Buckers From Square State Suzy. A Katie Supporter.
It was always a great honor when I was a student to be invited to a professor's house. It was never 1 on 1 - usually at the end of the semester, whoever was my current slavemaster (I worked through college as a student research or teaching assistant pretty much every semester) the proffie would invite us to their home. Some were very stiff occasions, but others were memorable evenings of great music (a fellow student on the piano and proffie's wife) and even better discussions.
So now that I'm a proffie, I invite my slaves for Christmas cookies or a summer cookout or a beach volleyball tournament or whatever. They enjoy it, I enjoy it. And I must say that I am still very good friends with a student of 20 years ago (bicycle tours and watching soccer on TV) or the occasional beer on the town with former thesis students I took a liking to. Yes, they are friends. No, I don't go to bed with them. That's what you have a spouse for.
I'm with Katie - I have good friends among (former) students. But that doesn't mean that the rest of you squalid teachers-just-to-earn-a-buckers have to do the same.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Student Who Shot Morehouse Classmate Gets Sentenced to Graduate While Victim Recovers. RYS Crimebeat.
Story for CNN's AC360 by Gary Tuchman and Ismael Estrada
About 500 students will graduate this weekend from Atlanta's prestigious Morehouse College. One person who won't be there is Rashad Johnson, shot three times by a fellow student. But the shooter will receive his diploma -- part of a plea deal that spared him up to 20 years in prison.
Joshua Brandon Norris was given a plea deal that avoided jail time and mandated he stay in college.
It's a puzzling case that raises a huge question: How can this be?
Even Atlanta's chief district attorney, Paul Howard, is outraged by the generous plea deal, an offer that was made by a prosecutor under his command.
"First of all, for the victim and his family, they deserved a better resolution," said Howard, a Morehouse graduate himself. "It seems like the wrong person got the right benefit."
For the rest of the article.
Monday, May 18, 2009
April Norhanian, a former college recruiter at Savannah College of Art and Design, is promoting the shit out of her book College is for Suckers.
She, like many students, came out of college with a couple of degrees and a lot of debt. She says, "From my experience as a student and college recruiter, I have come to see American colleges as a commercial product that’s not always relevant or effective for the pursuits of career seekers."
To which we reply, "But how did you like the cafeteria food?"
Anyway, she got a decent review in Kirkus Reviews; they called the book a "punchy manifesto on the evils of higher education." Blah blah blah. We like punchy. We like evil.
We love that in her promo material April fesses up with a terrific litany of past occupations, including cocktail waitress, blackjack dealer, and fitness instructor. We think these are all good professions, much better than anything in the academy, and we hope that the next time we need three fingers of scotch or to double down, that April will be there.
- There is a sad neediness that screams out of Katie's recent post. Of couse it's easy to friend the flakes, darlin'. They have no defenses against it. If they reject your friendship, they'll feel as though they're sealing their own death in your class. They are kids, first, and when an adult who is not their parent shows interest, it makes them feel like grown-ups. They're going to take to that, even though they're hardly equipped for any sort of real relationship. It's always going to be "sensei-student." Will YOU feel their love? Sure. Better to get a dog, Katie. There's a lot more reality in that realtionship than the ones you're bragging about.
- I have two, very specific recommendations for Katie. (1) Meet with the university's lawyer and describe for him/her the activities you've engaged with students, on- & off-campus. (2) Spend some time with a therapist to discuss your relationships with students, colleagues, and this blog. Katie, if you get the "all clear," then kudos to you and shame on us. Until that time, be prepared to be smacked for reasons that seem apparent to many of us but oblivious to you.
- What kinds of students are these that they would willingly go to the home of a professor? Don't get me wrong - it's not that I don't respect the vast majority of the academics who teach at my institution, but to like them enough to cultivate some sort of friendship? I'm 18-years-old - the only way I'd be going to a professor's house is if they were a complete hottie, and there was at least a 96% chance I was going to get some. Realistically, if a professor that good-looking and slutty really exists, what are the chances they're going to want to hang out with a student?
- Katie seems quite proud of the fact that she doesn't lead her students, and that in fact they often lead her through the material. How much are we paying you, you new age wonk?
- I confess I'm from the older generation of instructors Katie alludes to, but could someone explain to me why calling students and being called by our first or "nick" (?) names is some pedagogical breakthrough?
- There is something skeevy about a professor wanting students in her home. I don't care how you dress it up.
- It's not a party, Katie. You're not there for the friendships and the relationships. There's work that needs to be covered, and I'm betting you're not getting it done.
- There have been real losers on this page before - Wayne, you know it's you - but there's nobody as pathetic as Kalamazoo Katie...get. some. help. now.
- "But, you see, I don't want to lead them. In fact many times my students lead me to new understandings." What nonsense. I can't imagine someone teaching brain surgery or engine repair or piano or woodworking making this sort of statement. Either you know more than your students or you don't. If you do, wear your learning gracefully and honestly. Students hate being patronized. If you don't know more than your students, you have no business teaching. It's been said many times, but I have to say it here -- this picture of the professor who sees students as a everfreshening source of potential friends is fucking creepy. Pardon my French.
- You know, I would much rather have Wicked Walter's insane, chest-beating rants than Katie from Kalamazoo's narcissistic odes to her own wonderfulness. I love her poisoning the well strategy-- if anyone thinks that making undergrads our BFFs is a boneheaded I-await-my-sexual-harassment-lawsuit idea, then they must be a silverback. Look, I've made friends with some of my students. I'm invited to the wedding of one of them this summer, and I've hosted philosophy club cookouts on my deck. But we have become friends always after they graduate. Before then, they are all students and I am there to shepherd them through the fields of knowledge. They get goaded, praised, ass-kicked, encouraged, whatever is needed. But they are not there to be my playmates, call me nicknames (to my face), engage in Katie-style circle-jerks with me, or play mirror, mirror on the wall. And they are most certainly not there to "lead me to new understandings." Not just because it is pretty damn unlikely, but because teaching is not all about me. Here's a wild idea-- teaching has something to do with the students. I know, I'm old-school.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
The One Time We Got a B in a Trig Course, We Gave Our Proffie A Handjob And a $20 Giftie at Trader Joe's.
One of my students - the only one who had a hope in hell of getting an A in my trigonometry course - is apparently pissed that he got a B. He emailed me yesterday asking if he could meet with me to go over his final. Okay, whatever, I'd be in around noon. He emailed me again because he has a final noon to two, can he come in earlier? Sure. Then he emailed yet another time, saying that his final would only take half an hour and he'd be at my office at 12:30. Um... he didn't even ask me, he just told me. So a quarter to one rolls around and he's not there, so I email him - I had to leave for an appointment (with my shrink, mind you) and I wouldn't be back on campus until next week. He emailed me back:
Yes, your office coworkers told me I missed you by minutes. My final was on the other side of campus unfortunately. Since there seems to be no way for me to review the exam to possibly explain any misunderstandings in the handwriting or number-work, is there any way you could look over it once more for anything I might have pointed out? If, with the curve, I am in fact 0.5% away from an A in the class, and the previous 2 exams I've been able to explain a few problems to add half a letter grade to each one, the chance to raise my GPA is not one that I can easily pass up at this point. Please let me know if anything can be done.
It's not "the" curve, it's weighting the final exam more heavily, and your lowest exam score more lightly - the most generous weight I could give without dropping your lowest exam score - only used to see if I could possibly bump someone over the grade line. As per the course coordinator's suggestion, it is to be used at my discretion. If you hadn't missed thirteen homework assignments and four quizzes, I might have been more generous. You got a very low B- on the final; a B in the course is reasonable. To bring your score up to an 85%, without the discretionary weighting, you would need to gain 12.5 points on the final exam.
Having you explain the handwriting or "number work" defeats the point of a written exam. I believe the directions on the exam said "All work should be organized to be readable and must be of sufficient depth to justify your answer."
I did, in fact, take a second look at your exam before I submitted the grades today. I found two places where I was TOO generous and should have taken off another point each place. I have very detailed rubric which I wrote up before I graded any of the exams.
As of yet I haven't heard back from the little bastard.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Friendship works two ways. My boss invites me to her Christmas party every year, and I don't want to go, but she has the power to give or withhold a salary increase, so I have to pretend I'm so, so dissappointed as I tell her I have previously scheduled plans. If only I could say, "I don't want to spend my Sunday at your house; I see enough of you at the office." I can't do that; instead I must pretend that I'd love to go if not for some bothersome scheduling conflict. And my boss favors the employees who do attend her Christmas party. Why shouldn't she? They're her 'friends' and I'm not. Sure, I have the liberty to choose my own friends, but I do pay a price for it in being less well-liked by the person who controls my salary. Let's pretend my professor invited me to his home. Dare I tell him that I don't want to go? If I say this, do I know for certain that it won't affect my grade? Or perhaps it would be worse if I'm not invited to his home and other classmates are. Are they getting preferential treatment? Does that explain why their grades are higher than mine? Does Katie from Kalamazoo invite her entire class to her home, or just a select few?
A professor can be close friends with a student, but not while he or she must grade their work. And if students and professors are real peers, then why charge tuition? Don't professors have some accumulated knowledge and experience that justifies paying in order to be taught by them? "Going about the business of learning as real peers," is a giant rip-off. My professor is not my peer. He graduated college before I was born, has advanced degrees in mathematics and more than 30 years of experience in the industry, has written several notable books, and is considered an expert in his field. Isn't it a bit ridiculous to pretend we're "peers" when the very reason I'm paying tuition is to learn from people who are not my peers? If he announced that he knows nothing more about mathematics than I do, why would I bother sitting through his classes?
You can be friendly with people without inviting them to your home. I get along very well with my classmates and coworkers, yet have never been to their home or vice-versa. It's not that students and professors should never be friends, but one friend should not wield power over the other. That is not friendship, no matter how much we might want to believe that it is. Just as my boss believes the employees who attend her Christmas party are her friends, rather than employees who want to be in her good graces. If there is real potential for friendship between professors and students, surely it can wait until the semester is over so the issue of grades does not preclude actual friendship?
Friday, May 15, 2009
Listen, I don't know where else to turn with this.
So, Locke is dead, right, and his body has been taken over by Titus Welliver, who's actually the devil?
And the guy who played Dexter's girlfriend's bad husband is Jacob, and he's God, and he brings people to the island periodically to test them?
And that ship in the opening was the Black Rock or Pearl, or whatever that big boat is in the middle of the island?
And Locke/Devil has to get Ben to kill God, and that's the loophole, because the Devil can't kill God, but one of God's disciples can? (And Ben is really like Job, right? Patience and all that.)
And, man, that Kate is still smokin'.
And can you believe that fight with Sawyer and Jack? That wasn't half what I get into on a normal Friday night.
And couldn't they have let Hurley have a funny line or two?
Poor Sayid. Man, that mother can't catch a break.
That's all I got. If you could let me know, I'd really appreciate it.
I won't even address any of the specific and seriously ridiculous recent postings about being friends with students.
The truth is, we are human beings first, social beings, really, and who do we have more contact with than students? Of course I'm friends with my colleagues, but my students are very dear to me.
I feel very sorry for those of you who don't see the possibility of very strong relationships with these amazing women AND men who are in our classes. It's a warm feeling for me to go to work because I know my friends await my arrival in the classroom. We call each other by our first names or "nick" names, and we go about the business of learning as real peers.
Those of you who don't understand that likely come from an earlier generation of instruction. You think you have to hold power over students in order to lead them. But, you see, I don't want to lead them. In fact many times my students lead me to new understandings.
I'm a hardass on grading: don't get me wrong. But we're a small communal society for the span of a semester (or usually much more in my case), and it's lovely to have these relationships.
Sure, I've had students in my home. I feel very very sorry for those of you who have not. You're missing wonderful and rewarding friendships.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
- First, you need to re-establish your self worth. This can be difficult, since your school has probably made it abundantly clear that Snowflakes rank way above Adjuncts, TAs, and maybe even Proffies in some cases. Try to ignore the fact that they value the little brats' input before your own. No, really. I dare you. Just try.
- Just don't take it personally. Easy as pie, right? You know, when the plagiarizer not only fails to feel guilt for wasting your time and assuming you far stupider than you actually are, but he actually blames YOU for his plagiarism? Just brush it off, man. It's not personal. Those students showing blatant disrespect in their evals and their classroom behavior? It's not personal. The student who showed up on eval day after missing 50% of the classes, only to write "She was horrible. She should be fired," the insults about personality and attire--they're not personal either. They just SEEM personal. Deeply, deeply personal.
- Or try adopting Bitchy Bear's attitude: well, I don't care. Teaching means nothing to me anyway. Try to maintain this mantra while ignoring the fact that your livelihood depends on teaching since you are just a temporary worker. So, if you stop caring about teaching, you will probably have to stop caring about eating too. But who needs food, anyway?
- Are we still recommending that we ignore the fact that with 85% (I'm being kind) of our students being lazy, ignorant, entitled, lying cheaters in some way, shape, or form, that we as teachers are confronted daily with a horrific vision of the future and humanity more generally? Yes? Okay, well, I guess you should ignore that too, then. Repression can be healing. Try reading some "uplifting" stories from the ridiculously blind--maybe Katie from Kalamazoo is a good start.If nothing else, it may temporarily re-direct your anger.
- If all this fails? Drink.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
We know most folks read the Chronicle, but a number of our readers have asked us to link to their recent slideshow about essay mills. So, we woke up, did it, and are now going to the Target to get some orange cups and saucers. That's how we roll.
Caroline from the Carolinas Works In An English Department. And She Tells Phillie from the Plains To Eat Shit.
A number of English proffies wrote to us about Phillie's recent skewering post. We weren't surprised by this. English proffies love to write. Hey, wait a minute, some of our best friends teach English. Wait, that reminds us. Do you know how to get an English Ph.D. out of your house? Pay him for the pizza. No, that's really bad. We apologize. Pretend Phillie told you that joke.
I am so tired of defending myself and my profession from the assumption, so thoroughly demonstrated by Phillie, that the majority of English Departments and professors are "literary wonks who occasionally do a bad amateur-night impression of teaching" or "soft-headed weirdos who'd rather 'commune' with their students than teach them anything." Sure, Phillie, lamely defends himself against generalizing (it's not "universal"), and then goes on to generalize and stereotype all the same: "at every school I've been to, this kind of activity appears to be as good a formula for advancing in the discipline as, you know, actual pedagogy." If "every school" you've been to uses this as criteria, Phillie, I shudder to think of the quality of the English departments or academic standards of the schools by which you've been trained.
As a graduate student and soon-to-be-professor of English literature, I have to defend myself constantly against the assumption that my field requires no knowledge base or pedagogical training. I constantly have to work against student beliefs that all "feelings" are valid as arguments and interpretations, that everything said is okay because the student feels strongly about it, that writing cannot be judged because it is "personal," and that there is no right answer because everything in English is "subjective." Students challenge the interpretation of texts, believing it to be an exercise in "like/don't like" (or the more reprehensible "this totally reminds me of the time I felt/experienced..." response), and I have to provide them with the necessary analytical tools required to participate in the processes of interpretation. Furthermore, I must use my pedagogical skills to reveal, in appropriate doses, the massive body of historical and critical information which undergirds our interpretations of texts. Thus, it is my job to literally teach students to read, to think, and to argue. This is not easy, and it requires a great amount of skill and patience. Studying English is not about finger-painting, singing songs, and sharing feelings (and a good hug/cry) over a cup of tea, though learning how to interpret and analyze can be an illuminating process that allows students to develop new insights into the self as a human being and a learner.
I strongly question Phillie's assertion about experiences with professors who "know less than nothing about philosophy [but] try to explain it to their students nonetheless, using - God help us - Derrida and Foucault." With the massive range of philosophers, theorists, and scholars who contribute (or have contributed) to the field of English today, it would indeed be a poor English professor who relied on only two theorists to explain a different field than that in which she/he teaches. However, the majority of the English professors I know and work with are widely read in critical theory of a variety of fields. Not only is critical theory a necessary part of English research, but professors often effectively bring it into the classroom as part of the method of teaching students how to interpret and analyze texts. You may not agree with every professor's choice nor every theorist, but exposure to theorists is important to every student's experience. Perhaps Phillie hasn't been in an English department since the 1980s?
Unfairly, as an English instructor I also have to work against the outside assumption that I want to be treated as a best friend, day counselor, psychologist, or substitute mother. My classes are strictly focused on the literature at hand, though we may discuss larger human issues that are addressed in the text. My class sizes may lend themselves to slightly more intimacy than a 500 person math lecture. And it is worth noting that the discussion of human issues makes my students think of themselves, each other, and even the professor as human! Thus, my office hours may occasionally be the scene of personal confidences or an attempt by the student to extend our professional student-teacher relationship into a more personal one. I care about my students (I really do!), and I enjoy getting to know them as people. But I, like the majority of my colleagues, maintain healthy sense of boundaries with them. I direct those who need counseling to Wellness Services, I do not invite students to socialize with me outside of appropriate boundaries, and I do not share private information about my own life. However, and this is an anecdotal rebuttal at best, I have yet to hear that any of my graduate student friends in math or science departments have to take such careful steps against student overtures, and none have ever received the confidences offered in office hours that my English colleagues have experienced.
Furthermore, I have encountered numerous non-humanities professors who are as equally ill-equipped in the classroom as any English professor who "communes" with students. Professors in many fields are hired purely because of their research skills. Many of them are never trained how to teach their subject effectively. Many of them, in fact, do not value teaching as part of their careers, and some openly avoid teaching or acknowledge it as a secondary aspect to their university positions. The personality type of the professor who bonds with students inappropriately may appear in any department anywhere, though anecdotal evidence might point disproportionately to humanities and English departments because it is the nature of humanities departments to discuss human issues. However, I'd suggest Phillie and others look at individuals rather than stereotyping and not confuse the subject with an inability to teach it or teach well.
Monday, May 11, 2009
The latest fake but fun reply to a student reminded me of an article by Jay Schalin I found linked from National Review Online's education blog, Phi Beta Cons.
In short, the article makes the case that providing at least some information (perhaps not at the level of a complete syllabus) would be beneficial to students at a relatively low cost to professors. As an instance of the benefit to students, he, "give[s] a more concrete example, at the University of Washington there is a course, English 242, called 'Reading Fiction.' The course catalogue description reads: 'Critical interpretation and meaning in fiction. Different examples of fiction representing a variety of types from the medieval to modern periods.' Two brief sentences. 27 vague words. Not much to go on. But the University of Washington has an online system with much more detailed descriptions, similar to syllabi. And three of these expanded descriptions for English 242 in the spring of 2008 reveal exactly why online syllabi should be commonplace. One teacher subtitled her course 'Sex, Freedom, and Constraint' and uses the gay leftist philosopher Michel Foucault’s The History of Sexuality: An Introduction as the primary text. Another professor based his course on detective stories, 'from Sherlock Holmes, to Batman, to Veronica Mars.' A third focused on 19th century British fiction: William Godwin’s Caleb Williams, Elizabeth Gaskell’s Ruth, Charles Dickens’ Hard Times, and Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure."
[Full disclosure: I was a student at the University of Washington, and did get more information about classes using this system. However, said classes either had only one section in a given quarter or were math courses that were exceedingly similar across sections, so it did not benefit me as much as it would others.]
So let's run a cost-benefit analysis:
Professors would have to put up some information for the class when students can register for it. If the professor knows in advance that he or she has this course, the professor has taught this course in the past, and does not want to change the course materially from last time, then this cost is actually fairly low. (As a non-professor, I have no way to evaluate how likely it is that they would know enough in advance which course to teach.)
Students could use this information to register for a class that they are more interested in, think they would do better in, or both.
It would raise transparency levels as to what a class taught, and by extension what a degree is worth.
One limitation is that this seems to be more useful in humanities and social sciences rather than hard sciences. I would expect that it is difficult to personalize math, engineering, and physics courses.
I am sure that there are other costs and benefits that I am missing, and those would certainly be valid points. Mr. Schalin's full report deals with more than I've presented here.
So is this a good idea? I think so. I would love to have more detailed descriptions for the courses I am taking for my master's. And if I teach, as I hope to, I would provide that information for students who are interested in the classes I'd have if there is a place for it.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
by Julia Harding
It will be a few more days before it is learned what exactly killed the University of Georgia professor accused of murdering three people. Hundreds of searchers spent two weeks looking for Georgia Zinkhan and Saturday, his body was found in the woods not far from the theatre where he opened fire.
Alpha Team Search and Rescue, a group of men and women with their K-9 crew searched a total of 10 hours and 10 minutes before finding Zinkhan buried in a shallow grave.
The two week international manhunt for the triple murder suspect ended in the woods of Clarke County.
Complete story and latest video.
RYS Note: While this story does not speculate on the circumstances surrounding the shallow grave, a posted online story from the Atlanta Journal Constitution includes this text: "The search ended Saturday morning in a rural part of western Clarke County, when cadaver dogs found Zinkhan in a shallow grave police believe he dug before firing a bullet into his head."
The CNN story.
Saturday, May 9, 2009
I reached my breaking point. Long story, short: my students in my survey course are convinced I am not here to help them succeed.
When one of their classmates submitted 10 questions, less than 48 hours before an exam, and I posted a six page response to the class web site, how is that not helping them to succeed?
When I post a two page comment about a topic they need for their project, how is that not helping them to succeed?
When I provide an outline with major and minor headings, a workbook, and a rubric for said project, how is that not helping them to succeed?
When I post an old case, question prompts from the case, and two exemplary responses to the questions, how is that not helping them to succeed?
When I post needed formulae and additional explanation for quantitative analysis ahead of an assignment, how is that not helping them to succeed?
When I meet with students outside of office hours, how is that not helping to succeed?
I stood there blankly, bile rising up listening to this snowflake make this statement.
Another snowflake followed with, "there is soooo muuuuuch information in the book. How are we to know what is important and what is not. A study guide would help."
OH, MY FUCKING GOD!
Where does it end?
How about I outline the chapter for you?
How about I give you a list of a hundred questions and tell you 50 of these hundred questions will be on the exam?
How about I give you 50 questions and tell you these questions will be on the exam?
How about I give you 50 questions, mark the correct answers, and tell you these questions will be on the exam?
How about I bubble in the answer sheet with the correct answers?
Do these dumb asses ever take responsibility for their learning and knowledge?
Oh, boo hoo. We have to spend 20 hours outside of class for every 4 hours we are in your class.
Grow up you whiny bastards. If you cannot or will not do the work, then suck it up, drop the class, and go waste someone else's time. Better yet. Drop out, try to get a job. Whine to your boss about how much work there is, how the work process does not fit your work style, and how you cannot figure out to prioritize your time. While you are dropping your snowflake rant on her, she is mentally reviewing the 10 candidates who are more qualified than you, have more experience than you, and have more education than you. Thanks to the last eight years of economic mismanagement, jobs are pretty fucking scarce and job seekers are pretty fucking plentiful. Why should anyone put up with your bullshit?
On the first day, I told them this class was a killer and how to prepare for class. Halfway through the class, these snowflakes seem genuinely surprised that I spoke the fucking truth on the first day of class.
I stood there, reminded them of how I suggested they prepare for class, and started my lecture for the day's chapter. If I hear one more whine, then I will walk out of class and wish them luck with the final.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Paradise Lost Continued. How Students Ruin a Perfectly Good Career. Carney from Conshohocken Cries Out.
Last month on your site, Professor Apocalypse asked, "Does anyone else feel my pain?"
I'm living it. Or, rather, lived it.
Just five years ago, I was a fairly successful grad student. I had won several departmental paper prizes. My peers and colleagues told me they envied my writing ability. Professors recommended me to help other grad students with editing their papers and generally adapting to grad school. I seemed primed to get a TT job somewhere, even if it were some po-dunk backwater where I'd be happy and productive contributing to the discipline.
Then my departmental funding ran out. Despite most of my peers taking 5-7 years to complete the PhD, my department decided to stop funding everyone at the end of year three. But, they'd be more than happy to hire the rest of us as adjuncts at a fraction of the pay of a teaching assistantship...and no benefits! Who could pass *THAT* up? Since I thought I'd only need another 2 years to finish, I decided to take them up on their very lucrative offer. (ha!) I had been told teaching assignments would keep me "fresh" on the job market, and it never occurred to me that might be a fib. So, after a year teaching Intro classes, the adjuncting well started drying up as more grad students began sipping from the font. This meant I had to start taking whatever job came my way, which is how I got roped into teaching a series of writing classes.
My profs thought I was perfectly qualified! I had taught a remedial writing class for the department twice before. And several of the courses I TA-ed for had major writing components. It would just take a big leap for me to teach the Writing for the Discipline course I got hired to teach. Heck, fool that I am, I actually took on a writing course for the English department that same semester; it looked like a dream class, with just 13 students signed up for this sophomore-level class devoted to learning how to write a research paper. These were not freshman comp classes, so all the deadwood should be floating away, right?
Wrong! Just like Prof. Apocalypse, I soon discovered that most of the class (in every single section of the 5 I taught over the next year) could not [would not?] follow instructions. Most of them refused to learn how to use the word processing programs on the computers they shackled themselves to; I got papers that were single-spaced, triple-spaced, in 10-point font and 14-point font, with 2 inch margins and 1/2 inch margins...you name it, I saw it at least once in EVERY section...often with several of these in one paper. And then there were the 3-page paragraphs, the newspaper articles masquerading as scholarly sources, the made-up citation methods (because I guess MLA and APA are just too arcane to grasp!), and the plethora of comma splices, sentence errors, and "typos" (which is what the students called them) that littered most of the assignments.
If I assigned a reading, almost no one read it. If I asked them to summarize the reading, almost no one could tell me what it was about. If we went over a rule or method or technique in class, most everyone neglected to use it in their papers (as if class time assignments weren't designed for them to use on the papers they wrote for me to ASSESS their mastery for a grade). The inability of most of the students to grasp how quotation marks work still haunts me. If you didn't invent the idea expressed in the words you are typing, put the exact words in quotation marks and tell me who said it and where you read it. Why is that soooooooooooooooooooooooo hard?
But here's why all of this still bugs me: These lovely, precious cherubs of light mobbed together and blamed me for their failure to learn the course material. I was just a bad teacher. It didn't matter if they didn't read the book. It didn't matter if they openly admitted on course evaluations that the majority of them spent 1-3 hours per week on homework instead of the recommended 6. No, no, it wasn't that they were chronically absent, or web-surfed when they were to be using the lab computer to complete an in-class assignment. Nope, it was my fault they failed because I am a "flamboyantly homosexual," "racist" who "talks funny," is "unclear with instructions," and am "mean," "smug," and belong teaching in a "third level community college." Nope, it was my fault because I was a big failure who was incompetent and set them up to fail.
We'll ignore that these classes ballooned in size to almost double the recommended size for a writing course (the largest had 31, the smallest 22). We'll ignore that my syllabus was 8 pages long, with details on all course policies. We'll ignore that instructions for EVERY assignment were at least 1 page long, often written as a series of steps for the students to follow so they wouldn't forget something, and fully explained during classtime. We'll ignore that every major assessment was preceded by a short lecture/practice session for them to see how to do things properly (and for me to shepherd the little lambs back into the fold when they went astray). We'll ignore that so many of them disappeared for 10-25% of the semester, some longer. We'll ignore the fact that the international students often had a better grasp of written English than the native English speakers...let's especially ignore that!
I got so disgusted by all this that I refused to teach writing classes the following year. And so the adjuncting well went dry. When forced to choose between tuition and rent, I opted to use my meager savings to pay my rent, thus ending my burgeoning career in the academy. After years of angry e-mails and being shouted at in the hallway by C students, being infantalized by incompetent office staff who ruled the office supply cabinet like a petty feifdom, and being lied to by my professors about non-existent summer employment opportunities, I have been exiled and branded for my failure with unemployment. If anyone has any recommendations on how to deal the post-tramatic stress disorder resulting from years of dealing with plagiarists, cheaters, and lairs, let me know. I'm still feeling the pain.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
I warned them the first day of class. I warned them at midterm. "The final requires some thinking, you'll want to take notes over my discussion," I said at various points in the semester, as I looked out at a sea of slack-jawed faces, eyes glazed as they gaze into their laptops, tapping away on FB / IM / WTFEver instead of paying attention. And before anybody gets all preachy-teachy student-centered yada-yada- yada on me, I usually lecture for 30 minutes out of a 3-hour class. The rest of the time is play-time, whee, where all their little creations are praised as the very products of genius. I know: thirty minutes of something being not about them is akin to waterboarding, but what can I say? I'm old school.
So there I am last night, handing out the final on the last day of class. I am shocked to see people in the room that I have not seen since about the second week of class. It is a take-home exam.
"Do you have any questions?" I ask.
Dead silence. They start talking to each other. "Can we go?" A guy in a baseball cap asks. I recognize baseball cap guy as the guy who has turned in the crappiest work I've ever seen. "Sure." I say, "You can go. But I'll stay and discuss the exam with anybody who has questions." Most start packing stuff. "Sure you don't have questions?" I say.
"Do you expect us to have read the books for these questions?"
Another baseball cap guy: "Do you know if they still have the books in the bookstore?"
Sweet cracker sandwich, kid. I found a kitten on 9th Street I'm pretty sure is smarter than you. Why not just raise your little arm and say "Hey, proffie, flag my exam for extra scrutiny for plagiarism, 'mkay?" Do you attach a sticky on your 1040 EZ telling the IRS not to look too hard at your W-2 as your employer always prints them on Hello, Kitty paper like this?
Me, in response: "I have no idea. There may be some copies left."
A little more silence. They are glaring at me. Another kid says "Are you going to give us an outline?"
I'm dumbfounded. "An outline? What for?"
Ok, this is the kid who overparticipated and routinely talked with his mouth full of half-chewed food and who props his skateboard against the wall. He looks at me like I'm an idiot. "For the questions." He draws out the last word to help me understand how stupid I am being.
"No, I am not giving you an outline. I already know how to write essay." I say. "I encourage you to write your own outline, though. It might help you organize your essay."
The rest of them scatter. Whoopee. Class is over with an hour left to go watch TV or whatever it is they do when I am not ruining their lives with my irrelevancies. I take the bus home. By the time I get there, there are seven individual emails from the wee flakes. I'll only present the gems:
- A pronouncement from one of the (seemingly 100) athletes in the room that she needs to reschedule the final because she has a photo shoot and her agent has told her to be available.
- A long, detailed question from the kid who threw one of his homeworks on the floor in a snit because I wouldn't take it a week late. This email essentially asks me in email form to write an answer to questions #3 and #5.
- Two as-yet-undisclosed and undocumented learning disabilities, with long-drawn explanations about how they can't be expected to answer essay questions under such time constraints (they have two weeks). One suggests that I just use his average grade so far for his final score; another proffie has done this little thing for him and he's sure this is the easiest for both of us.
- A request that I allow students to decide how much the exam is worth, as that is what Proffie X does, and Proffie X is a real proffie while I am just an assistant proffie and so I should go with the policy that Proffie X uses since he is my manager, and she's good friends with Proffie X. (Proffie X is actually an adjunct, and a very nice man, but the department has no such policy; I guess he's a real proffie by virtue of his old-guy-ness.)
Now, since I don't actually care about teaching, I don't take any of this nonsense too terribly seriously. I'm in this gig because I want steady health insurance and to be able to practice my obsession into old age and not have to eat cat food. But honestly. For those of us who see teaching as a grand 'calling,' how do you stand it semester after semester? Do you keep flasks of Knob Creek in your backpack? Special brownies? Or have you just successfully shoved all the crappy first-year, required-class teaching onto your junior colleagues so that you can now sit back and lecture one and all about the joys of teaching (...honors and doctoral seminars)? Do you only care about the four or five students every semester who seem to have two brain cells to rub together? Or do you also possess a riding crop and ball gag?
Friday, May 1, 2009
Summer closes in.
My cracked will to continue
has broken clean through.
Are there safe places
out there, places where I can
find myself again?
Desertscapes rush past.
An open gate my passage.
Stars, me, wolves, highway.